Koror-- Palau’s arrival form greets visitors with the line “Welcome to Palau -The Rainbow’s End,” a phrase that aptly sums up the country’s resplendent beauty. It can be costly to maintain beauty.
Starting Jan. 1, 2018, every visitor coming to Palau will be assessed a $100 environmental fee. It’s part of the island nation’s move to promote high value tourism and first-rate tourism hospitality.
A fisherman cast his net over a school of sardines a sunset.
Faced with a rough start and suffering delays since becoming law two years ago, the tourist fee named the “Pristine Paradise Environmental Fee” is finally being implemented. The environmental fee is the primary financing mechanism for the Palau National Marine Sanctuary. Enacted in October 2015, the marine sanctuary law seeks to preserve 80 percent (500,238 sq. km) of Palau’s exclusive economic zone as Palau National Marine Sanctuary and create a domestic fishing zone in the remaining 20 percent (85,896 sq. km). The law will be fully implemented in year 2020, following a five-year transition period.
In taking a leading role in caring for the environment by moving to create a modern-day “bul” – traditional conservation measure - that puts the marine environment first, the nation of 20,000 people has embarked forward with a new identity that puts value tourism atop its economic priorities by promoting itself as the “Pristine Paradise Palau” brand.
President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. says that the Palau National Marine Sanctuary is to create a sustainable lifeline for Palau’s food security, economic security and cultural security, by safeguarding the island’s marine environment. “Yet, the ultimate success of this endeavor hinges on the collection of the increased fee for travelers, embodied in the environmental fee,” Remengesau said in a statement earlier this year.
However, the initial target collection date on April 1, 2017 was delayed due to mounting concerns from the local tourism industry that implementing the total $100 fee per visitor – an additional $50 on top of the existing $50 departure fee – would impact the already declining visitor arrivals.
Remengesau was forced to ask the Olbiil Era Kelulau – Palau National Congress – for a delay. “I agree that implementing the [fee] on April 1st of this year is not the most opportune time to be increasing tourist fees. With global market activity affecting dollar values across our top tourism markets in Asia including Japan, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Korea, and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), it would be wise to hold off on the [fee] for now until more positive indicators of inbound tourism from Asia convince us otherwise,” Remengesau said.
Delaying the collection gave sufficient time to ensure that the fee is included in the price of airplane tickets. Imposing the fee in January couldn’t have come at a better time with the tourist numbers seemingly upbeat. After 21-consecutive months of a downward trend, visitor numbers picked up with a seven percent increase in October and held steady in November.
Every international airline is required to include the fee in the price of the ticket into Palau sold on or after January 1, 2018. Palauan passport holders, pilots and crews, diplomats and transit passengers are exempt from the $100 Palau Paradise Environmental Fee. “In instituting the [marine sanctuary], we made a crucial and high-level policy decision to aid the state governments, the Civil Service Pension Fund, and the enforcement and surveillance of the new sanctuary with funds collected through an increase in the fee paid by visitors,” President Remengesau said.
The $100 fee will be allocated as follows: $10 to Fisheries Protection Trust Fund; $12.50 to state governments; $25 to the security, operation, maintenance, and improvement of the Palau International Airport (provided all funds from local revenue that would have been appropriated for those purposes shall be appropriated to the Civil Service Pension Fund); $30 earmarked for Protected Areas Network; and $22.50 to revert to the National Treasury.
It is a strategic maneuver crucial to protecting economic gains made and ensuring that major global economic factors have less negative impacts on Palau’s economy moving forward.